Step in Line! The Etiquette of Queuing

Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, but I think he should have said we were a nation of queuers. Everywhere is a queue: in the shops, on the roads, abroad, on the telephone. And at the moment with the January sales, a lot of us may be waiting outside our favourite shops hoping to get a good deal on something we’ve had our eyes on for sometime. But, as with every aspect of life, there is a protocol that should be followed.

1) If you are with several people, enter the queue as one group. Don’t take it turns to reserve a place for your entire party. Think how annoying it must be to think, after a ling time waiting, you finally reach the front except for the one man in front of you and suddenly, out of nowhere, his five relatives join him, making your wait even longer. This is especially prevalent at theme parks.

2) Keep children under control. No free-range children, please. I saw an example of this the other day at a supermarket. Two mothers were gossiping away as they waited to have their purchases seen to by the cashier; their two ‘adorable’ children frolicked around the legs of other shoppers and nearly knocked an elderly gentleman over at one point: the mothers did (thankfully) apologise to the man but didn’t bother to control their children.

3) Be patient – everyone in the queue is the same position. I did once have a man get cross at me for the length of time he had been waiting, but it was nothing to do with me: I was standing behind him, anyway. Equally, if there has been a long queue, when you get to the desired point, try to be as brief as possible to ensure that others behind are not kept waiting.

4) Before you enter a queue (if it’s a lengthy one) make sure you’ve gone to the loo so you don’t need to disturb the rest of the line trying to get out. As silly as this may sound it does happen. If you leave the queue you cannot expect to come back two minutes later as fresh as a daisy and take up your old place. Others will not be happy about this.

5) Respect the personal space of others. There is no need to stand body-to-body in the queue, doing so will only irritate people and may heighten an already fractious situation. Also, if you are a smoker, now is not the time to light up – save that until you are well away from the queue.

6) Probably the most frustrating of all queuing faux pas is queue jumping. Quite simply: don’t! On my one and only visit to a nightclub I happened to be in a queue to get to the outdoors part of the club (no silly music out there!) and someone tried to push in. I think under normal circumstance they would have got away with this as everyone else would have been too drunk, doped and disorderly to notice or comment. Sadly for this one poor boy, I was totally sober and swiftly admonished him and sent him on his way to the back of the queue. That was the only positive I can draw from my nocturnal experience.

The British love a good queue but there are still who break the rules mentioned above. It is interesting to note than in America, a ‘queue’ is practically unheard of: they call it ‘standing in line’. I was once told – and I’m not sure how true this is – that ‘queue’ is not in all American dictionaries. That said, the rules still apply wherever you are!

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

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2 Responses to “Step in Line! The Etiquette of Queuing”


  1. 1 MiZ Attitude 26 February 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for the tips! i’m a few weeks in the UK and I haven’t had any problems with any of this. However, what do you think of this scenario. i’m standing in line at say, ASDA and there are a couple of people behind me and a couple others (with lots of stuff)in front of me. Now I spot that the next till that was previously vacant now has an attendant there. There is no customer at the till yet. Is it okay to leave my place in line and run off to the no-queue till? would the people behind me think it was rude?

  2. 2 Living In Thailand 2 November 2011 at 3:48 pm

    The rules don’t apply if you live in Asia, Asians have no sense of jumping the queue and do it all the time. I live in Thailand and speak it fluently. I typed in jumping the queue or manners for standing in line and came up with nothing.


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